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BitSummit17 Exposes a Flourishing Japanese Indie Game Scene

June 2, 2017 2:30pm
by Mike Tamburelli

Recently, the world has been absolutely awash in amazing video games from Japanese developers across a magnitude of different genres. The windfall of fantastic games, seemingly starting with late 2016’s Final Fantasy XV and spanning titles like Nier: Automata, Nioh, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Persona 5 have been keeping our thumbs twitching. As a result, I’ve been hearing it all to often: “Japan is back. Japanese developers have found their magic touch once more.”

I don't really buy into the sentiment, which honestly seems to assume a bit too much.

In my eyes, the world of Japanese video games never actually lost its lustre; to the rest of the world, it simply fell out of focus as other trends and business decisions emerged from western markets and publishers. Remaining hyper-focused on the content we loved, myself and many other gamers found plenty to love from those same studios and talent who gave us some of our most fantastical experiences along the way. There was even room for new and unconventional games from young and budding talent.

Imagine my sheer excitement then, if you will, when I discovered BitSummit - an annual showcase of some of the best games not only from Japan's own underground scene, but also from creative minds the world over who hope to spread their own concepts of fun across international barriers. From university students building their very first virtual reality games to industry veterans who have decided to chart their own paths with new production studios, BitSummit is a microcosm that allows the freshest ideas from one of our favorite hobbies to flourish and grow.

This year's event, officially known as "A 5th of BitSummit," was held in Kyoto, Japan, at the Miyako Messe exhibition hall on Saturday, May 20 and Sunday, May 21. Organized by a host of big industry players alongside some individuals passionate about indie gaming, BitSummit is proud to be one of the largest independent games events in Japan, with 6435 attendees in 2016 alone. Throughout this years event, I was fortunate enough to get hands-on time with 10 games in total. Bridging various genres and niched ideas, we're going to take a look at just what defined my BitSummit weekend:

People Panic

People Panic was a game that would be extremely hard to miss as you entered the exhibit hall. As opposed to the gentle glow of all the TV screens and computer monitors dotting the dimly-lit hall, this light appeared to be popping out of the floor. As I approached to take a closer look, I was handed a long fishing rod-type pole, and noticed what appeared to be a classic flying saucer UFO hanging off the end.

The goal of the game is to work with your teammates to abduct as many people, animals, and eventually objects as possible. Of course, as the image is not actually coming from the floor, an overhead projector works in tandem with the UFOs to determine where they are located on the playing field, thus allowing you to abduct anything below your own UFO. After 2 minutes or so of sucking up us much of the map as possible, everyone receives the total score, and a new round begins almost immediately.

Of course, being quite an unconventional installation for a video game, it will be interesting to see how developer Coconoe brings the game to a wider audience.

Official Site: 9ye.jp

Strange Telephone

Strange Telephone was, stylistically, one of my favorite games at the show. From the snap I captured above you can see main character Jill standing in front of this ominous looking door. As it would turn out, Jill is now trapped in this dark and mysterious world, and the only way to get out is to rely on her mysterious floating pal named Graham. Graham resembles a telephone, and Jill must use the hovering horn to dial up one a plethora of worlds via 6-digit numbers.

It's a beautiful point-and-click adventure in a pixel art style, complete with retro scanlines and all. As you navigate the worlds, there are also a number of items that you can pick up to help you along the way. These include a lantern which light up those darker worlds, and a hatchet letting you cut through obstacles. I chatted with game's developer, Yuta, about his concept:

Strange Telephone is a big game with 5 endings. In order to get them all, I encourage players to share their world numbers with friends to help them out. In this way, it is also a sort of social game, but you have to find a way to do this outside of the app.

Strange Telephone is available now on both Android and iOS devices, in both Japanese and English. Also on display at the booth was a PC version, which is planned for release later this year.

Official Site: magniflop.com

Samurai Inferno Castle

Now this one was just oozing with style and fresh ideas. The best way to describe Samurai Inferno Castle would have to be a blend between classic Japanese "yanki" biker gangs and Fire Emblem. On their turn, players are able to move their characters on gridded maps, and can chose from the standard options such as "Attack," "Item," and "Wait." The action is a fair bit more fast-paced than your typical SRPG, and taking down huge bosses requires you to be more inventive than approaching the enemy square and pressing "Attack."

In the demo, I found myself facing a gigantic demon with two oversized arms. It was only after you incapacitated the arms that its head would emerge from behind the castle roof. In order to have myself in an advantageous position to strike the head, I had to move about placing bombs to damage the arms. If the rest of the game has you thinking on your feet in a similar style, I sense a real winner on our hands. Oh, and did I also mention there's an insanely fun multiplayer mode?

Official Site: Kyoto x Unity

Rising Arch: Raika kawaseshi shiren no tou

Rising Arch is part-action, part-puzzle, and complete-fun. The game has two options when it comes to input; you can either take advantage of a touch screen monitor, or you can opt for a more traditional mouse and click scheme. It's clear which method the developers had in mind for the game however, as you are tasked with ascending a tower full of puzzles by hovering at precise points in midair, all while taking aim with your oversized magic bow to shoot down enemies. Tap once to warp, hold your finger to hover, and drag your finger back to aim and shoot your bow; easy. Just don't let go in the wrong spots, or else you may find yourself falling onto the spikes below.

Featuring a host of characters, gorgeous pixel graphics and screen-engulfing effects, Rising Arch is sure to please fans of great 2D romps. The developers were selling special BitSummit emblazoned cards with download codes for trial versions of the game, and they detailed that the full version of the game is due out by year's end. I would urge you to keep an eye on their site and Twitter page for more info.

Official Site: Banraku-Hatenkou

va-ll hall-a (PlayStation Vita Version)

va-ll hall-a, while perhaps not a new game for many, is receiving an official release in Japan complete with translation. So of course the indie darling should have a presence at Japan's biggest indie games show, right? Oh, and what's this? A PlayStation Vita release too? Sign me up! I played a good portion of their demo, and the game is just as sharply-written and witty in Japanese as it is English.

Haven't given it a try yet? If you are a fan of incredibly detailed pixel graphics, brilliant writing and a general cyberpunk aesthetic, this game will be right up your alley. Oh, and props to the team for blaring the game's OST throughout the exhibition hall over a killer retro boombox.

Official Site: Sukeban Games

Save Me Mr. Tako!

Did someone put a Game Boy on the big screen? You wouldn't be faulted for thinking so as you walked past this booth, as that's just the feeling that developer Christophe Galati wishes to evoke. Save Me Mr. Tako puts you in the tentacle-filled shoes of a little octopus soldier. Yes, these octopi are at war - with humans! The beginning of the demo had you attacking a human ship in the middle of a storm. One of the passengers of the ship falls into the sea, and through a cutscene your octopus jumps in after to save her. From here, the story unfolds as you guide the little rebel through some retro-inspired, hybrid platformer and RPG action.

One of the best parts of the whole experience? You can swap the game's color palette on the fly with the press of a button, just as if you were playing an original Game Boy game on a Game Boy Advance, but with just a few more options.

Save Me Mr. Tako will be available soon, with PC and WiiU releases planned.

Official IndieDB Page: Save Me Mr. Tako

Battle Sports Mekuru

Perhaps even more joyous than playing the game itself was the official Battle Sports Mekuru tournament that BitSummit held on the main stage. With a brand-new Nintendo Switch up for grabs, teams of event ticket holders duked it out against some pretty big-name industry veterans. Featuring a star-studded lineup including Castlevania's own Koji Igarashi, it was hard not to root for the gamers from the audience who were competing against them.

Battle Sports Mekuru is a Nintendo Switch-exclusive title developed by new Japanese studio Over Fence. The goal of the game is to run around a grid-like board, ground pounding the tiles to claim them as your own. With each pound, you flip a number of tiles in a cross-shaped pattern extending in all directions. Power-ups that you collect can have an effect on how many tiles you flip, and the pattern in which they flip as well. As you can imagine, this all makes for some pretty hectic action, and is the perfect game for a party-like setting.

Just as many of BitSummit's presentations and stage events were streamed over Twitch, so too was the tournament. Players young and old, industry vets and gaming newcomers alike made this game a blast to watch, and it was even more enjoyable to try it out myself. It's currently available on the Japanese Nintendo Switch eShop, and I'm sure a worldwide release isn't too far off.

Official Site: Battle Sports Mekuru

Momodora V (Working Title)

The game Momodora V may not see a final release under that same name, but what I played of it was a genuinely eye-catching example of stylized 3D action in it's purest form.

Originally introduced as a direct sequel to the first four titles in the series, it quickly branched off instilling a series-first 3D approach to a once pixelated series. As I guided my character through a serene castle environment, I was met with tight controls and physics perhaps similar to an entry into the Dark Souls series. If anything says successful leap into 3D gaming, my guess is that would be a pretty good indicator.

Since the game was revealed at the event, the developer has expressed intention in proceeding with this project separate from the Momodora series itself.

Official Website: Bombservice

God Breath You

As we've already seen with titles like People Panic, BitSummit, as well as indie games scene itself is definitely not afraid to venture outside the realm of the usual with their games. God Breath You is a prime example of a game that can be just as fun, if not even more so, without any traditional input device like a controller.

There are two aspects to the game: one player dons a VR helmet and finds themselves on a boat, while up to 4 other players squeeze little syringes attached to mini Roman-style busts in order to blow gusts of air at a small wooden model of aforementioned boat with a sensor attached to it. The player on the boat is essentially the captain, and must shout out directions such as "Left," Right," and Straight Ahead" in order to get the wind gods to steer the boat to safety. It was tons of fun, and I cannot wait to see what the team at 1->10drive bring to the table next.

Official Developer Site: 1->10drive

God of Money

As I walked past this booth, it was admittedly not the game or the VR helmet that attracted me. Rather, it was a person standing nearby. That person just happened to be acclaimed developer of cult hit Deadly Premonition and D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die Swery65, or Mr. Hidetaka Suehiro. Of course, I just had to approach him for a chat, and during the course of our conversation I became insanely curious about this game he appeared to be monitoring. As it would turn out, it wasn't exactly his game per se, but he did have a hand in it.

Thus, at the urging of Swery65, I was prompted to try out my very first (believe it or not) full VR game. God of Money is a project created by students at Osaka Electro-Communication University under Swery65's mentoring. He told me that VR was a prime space for young developers to bring their innovative ideas to fruition.

After the Occulus Rift helmet was carefully attached to my head, the developers handed me the Occulus controllers, and explained the rules of the game. I only needed to grip one button, and it was as simple as throwing anything I might choose to toss in the real world. As a benevolent God of Wealth, you simply need to toss wads of cash to the masses scrambling about your perch. The physics were spot on, and I walked away a believer in our VR future.

The next generation of creators are clearly in good hands.

Official Facebook Page: VR Media Research Project

Giga Wrecker

You would honestly believe that a new title by the acclaimed studio Game Freak, the very same developers behind the best-selling Pokémon games, would be headline news, right? Well apparently I've either been under a rock, or this just slipped under everyones radar, as I was completely unaware of their latest title Giga Wrecker prior to BitSummit, which has been available in Japan since February 6, 2017.

If there's anything I walked away knowing, it's that you need to head over to Steam pronto and pick up this gem, which just recently released with English-language support. Featuring a gorgeous art style reflective of the game's gritty nature, Giga Wrecker is described as a "debris action" game. The moniker totally fits, as it was a total blast to maneuver around the world, throwing junk around at will and bashing enemies with impromptu swords, spears and drills.

Official Site: Giga Wrecker

And so much more...

Even though I dedicated almost an entire weekend at BitSummit, playing far more games than I could have at larger events such as E3 or Tokyo Game Show, I earnestly feel like I barely even scratched the surface. While there were some familiar faces from larger events such as Nintendo and PlayStation, this was very much a show for the little guys. But the presence of those larger companies undeniably shows their dedication to the scene, and that's always a good thing.

Attached below is a series of photos from the showroom floor including the aforementioned booths from Nintendo and PlayStation:

If you are interested in BitSummit and any future events that may be held, be sure to keep an eye on their official website here.

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Kevin Penkin to Return to Anime with ‘The Rising of the Shield Hero’

August 14, 2018 4:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

I've had a keen eye on London-born composer Kevin Penkin for quite some time now, with his work originally coming onto my radar following his incredible work on the Kickstarter-funded Under the Dog, with his later work on the critically acclaimed Made in Abyss only adding to his repertoire. It's only natural then that I'd be excited to see announcements that he's fresh off the press for the upcoming Made in Abyss films, and already getting on Twitter to announce his involvement as a composer on the upcoming The Rising of the Shield Hero animated series.
 


Kevin Penkin’s contributions to the Made in Abyss anime adaptation were instrumental in elevating the most poignant scenes and filling the world with a mystical wonder that wasn’t present in the original manga, and his soundtrack for Under the Dog was easily the best part of the project, so no matter the source material, I’d always be excited to hear new music from him.

But even more than that, Penkin’s rare position as a foreigner working in anime makes him worth keeping an eye on. After all, limiting anime staff to only those living and working in Japan denies future anime of talented individuals that would greatly improve the project. Another name that springs to mind is Austrian animator Bahi JD, who’s animation cuts have always stood out and improved the overall project, whether it be his first job on Kids on the Slope or his latest work on FLCL: Progressive. In this sense, Penkin and others’ efforts are helping to improve anime in the long term, so I couldn’t be happier that he is continuing to work in the industry.

Only adding to this, Penkin’s genius towards dark and somber soundtracks seems like a perfect fit when it comes to the dark tone of the Shield Hero series, which is often praised as a dark isekai story in the same vein as Re;Zero. While I can’t say that that particular subgenre is my cup of tea, if it allows Penkin to continue to do what he does best, then I can’t complain. I’ll just be waiting to see what kind of magic he can work this time.

Penkin joins director Takao Abo and others at Kinema Citrus for The Rising of the Shield Hero, which is set to premiere it’s first episode at Crunchyroll Expo this September.

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Puniden Shares Powerful New Single 'Kimi wa Queen'

August 14, 2018 3:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Whether its the charming allure of a slow jazz jam or the high-paced burst of energy that is funkot, there's no denying that Tokyo-based vocalist Punipunidenki, otherwise known as Puniden, is a master of all genres. With a dynamic range capable of blowing me away every single time, it comes as no surprise that her latest single "Kimi wa Queen" strikes hot as a powerful masterpiece; a release that deserves every bit of attention it receives and an extra layer on top of that.
 


Featuring production, lyrics, and vocals entirely handled by Puniden, "Kimi wa Queen" is a self-described rooftop grove capable of redefining the mood of any moment. There's no denying the track's undeniable charm, with Puniden's signature flare shining in every corner of the song. It's simple, but the complimentary music video does a lot to build upon the atmosphere created by the song through its simple themes and city skyline.

Available now for streaming via Puniden's official SoundCloud and YouTube channel, further information on the latest release can be found here.

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lulu & Mikeneko Homeless Announce 'Umi ni Ikitai' Vinyl Release

August 14, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Tokyo-based electronic duo Mikeneko Homeless have long been praised as masters of their genre, flawlessly crafting hit single after hit single that always seems to find their way into my yearly favorites. That's why when announcements were made regarding the release of an all-new joint 10-inch vinyl alongside vocalist lulu for their upcoming summer single "Umi ni Ikitai", I jumped onto it immediately. It's not often you see physical releases from Mikeneko Homeless, so it's important to cherish it when there are some -- and "Umi ni Ikitai" is jam-packed with incredible sounds that have long defined the summertime vibe.
 


Spread out across four tracks, including summertime anthems "Asagao" and "Watermelon", Mikeneko Homeless and lulu are going all out on the latest release, and I couldn't be gladder. Set to release during October 2018, the upcoming release is currently priced around 2,300 yen, though it's unknown just how much inventory is being produced. The tracklist for "Umi ni Ikitai" can be found below:

lulu + Mikeneko Homeless - Umi ni Ikitai

Tracklist:
SIDE A

1. 海に行きたい (lulu + Mikeniko Homeless + Shin Sakiura)
2. Asagao
SIDE B
1. Watermelon
2. ここ

Those interested in checking out further information about the upcoming release, or those who are interested in picking up a copy for themselves, the official store can be found here.

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Anime NYC to Host 'Fate/stay night [Heaven’s Feel] Special Event featuring Aimer'

August 14, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

With the much-anticipated Anime NYC inching closer and closer, we've been seeing announcements made left and right to drum up excitement for New York's premiere anime convention. Announced over the weekend, the anime convention is working alongside Aniplex of America and Sony Music Entertainment Japan to bring a slice of worldwide phenomenon Fate/stay night [Heaven's Feel] to New York in the "Fate/stay night [Heaven’s Feel] Special Event featuring Aimer" event on November 17.

Taking place over two hours, the upcoming event will see numerous members of the English-language voice cast take to the stage, including Kari Wahlgren (Voice of Saber), Cristina Vee (Voice of Sakura Matou), Bryce Papenbrook (Voice of Shirou Emiya), and Tony Oliver (English ADR Director and Voice of Lancer); followed up by unseen previews of the upcoming Fate/stay night [Heaven’s Feel] II.lost butterfly film ahead of its theatrical release. Finally, the event will conclude with a massive performance from musician Aimer live at Anime NYC. 

Taking place on November 17 at the Javits Center in Manhattan, Anime NYC is truly shaping up to be an event not to be missed for those both on the East Coast and beyond. Further information can be found via the anime convention's official website.

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Weekly Shonen Jump Begins Streaming Classic Anime for Free in Japan

August 13, 2018 6:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

While the manga of Weekly Shonen Jump is plenty legendary by itself, it’s the anime adaptations of that manga that ha always fared best in the West and have introduced many to the magazine itself as a result. With that being said, no 50th-anniversary celebration of Weekly Shonen Jump would be complete without a celebration of the anime it has spawned - many of which are now available to watch, for free and legally, on YouTube if you live in Japan.

Weekly Shonen Jump launched their official 50th-anniversary channel on August 10 with the intent of allowing fans to watch classic anime of their properties for free. By navigating to the “playlists” tab, you can see that, as of the time of writing, episodes of Yu Yu Hakusho, Slam Dunk, Fist of the North Star, and Kinnikuman are available for streaming - provided you access it from a Japanese IP address. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Weekly Shonen Jump also plans to add new episodes every weekday, not only allowing fans to watch the above four series in full, for free, but also many other amazing Jump shows, including One Piece, Naruto, Dr. Slump, to name but a few. When certain shows will be added will be conveyed using the channel’s official Twitter account, so keep your eye on that for more.

You’ll be able to watch these shows on the channel until March 31 next year, so you’ll have plenty of time to sit back, relax, and take in some good old Jump anime goodness - whether it’s for reveling in nostalgia or discovering something new. I’d definitely recommend checking out Yu Yu Hakusho if you haven’t had a chance to see it already.

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Production I.G. to Helm Original Anime Based on the Infamous ‘Kabukicho’

August 13, 2018 5:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

Production I.G., the studio behind numerous anime such as Psycho-Pass, Haikyuu!, and a number of other titles, have announced a new, original anime project titled Shinjuku-ku Kabukicho. The original project has been in development since 2014, As the title suggests, the story will take place in the Kabukicho area of Shinjuku-ward, which is known for its vibrant nightlife as well as for it’s more unsavory elements. If you played any of the Yakuza games, then it is Kabukicho upon which Kamurocho is based, which should help you understand what kind of place it is if you haven’t had the opportunity to visit it yet.

Using this setting, the original anime series will tell the story of a “bizarre murder case,” and from the looks of the Sherlock Holmes-esque character in the key visual released alongside the announcement, it seems that the characters will be trying to solve that case: 



Other than the above key visual, we don’t have much more information as to the story or characters, but what we do know is that a lot of the key staff positions have already been filled - suggesting that it may air sooner than we think. Directing the series is Ai Yoshimura (Cheer Boys, Dance With Devils), handling the series composition is Kishimoto Taku (91 Days, Usagi Drop), and penning the character designs will be Yabaki Toshiyuki (Persona 5, Joker Game)

Production I.G. has had a good history with producing original anime, with Psycho-Pass being a keen critical favorite to this day. Combine this with the already interesting setting of Kabukicho, and it’s safe to say that I’m keen to see how this project will turn out.

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Classic ‘Dragon Ball’ Movies to Receive HD Blu-ray Releases

August 13, 2018 4:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

We haven’t got long to wait for the next installment in the beloved Dragon Ball franchise in this December’s movie Dragon Ball Super: Broly, but I wouldn’t blame you if you’re already desperate for some more Super Saiyan goodness. Many of you will have seen the original series, so how about checking the theatrical entries for some new ground? 

Luckily for us, Toei Animatiohasve recently unveiled their plans to release previous Dragon Ball movies on Blu-ray for the first time ever. While not all of the movies will be getting a Blu-ray release, the most important (and best) will be - from the first Dragon Ball Z movie, Dead Zone, all the way up to the first movie featuring Broly, Dragon Ball Z: Broly - The Legendary Super Saiyan. Even some classic movies from the pre-Z days will be seeing the light of day with Curse of the Blood Rubies, Sleeping Princess in the Devil’s Castle and Mystical Adventure all getting a Blu-ray release.

These new Blu-ray's will be based on a rescan of the original cels, allowing the movies to be upscaled to 1080p HD without affecting the quality of the picture. The technology allowing this to be performed has advanced considerably in recent years, and I can confirm for myself that these new rescans look absolutely incredibly from my experience watching the 4K-remaster of Ashita no Joe 2.

Toei plans to release eight Blu-ray's collecting 17 movies from 1986 to 1996 as of the time of writing, but they may decide to do more if sales are good. The first wave is available from November 2, so if you’re hankering for more Dragon Ball, definitely consider picking them up.

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